Focusing On The Details


I had some time to think tonight as I painstakingly harvested aphids from the subdivision’s rose bushes.  I couldn’t just snip buds off like I do with my rosebush, so it took more time than I wanted.  Yup, my new title is aphid herder.  I know everyone walking their dog or driving by was probably wondering what the crazy lady was doing to the rose bushes.  “I’m not destroying them, I promise!”

Why aphids, you might ask?  Because Petsmart (whom I truly hate right now) has been out of wingless fruit flies for a week and our ladybug larvae are voraciously hungry.  So…aphids.  Next time I’m taking a paintbrush – it’s easier to scrape them off without squishing them.  No one told me just how much these things could eat!

I read an interesting article the other day (and of course, I’m going to share it) comparing autistics to prodigies.  The conclusions were interesting.  But that’s not what struck me the most.  No, what made the most impact for me was what the mom of the child featured in the article did.

Her son was diagnosed with autism at age 3 – they ran through all the different therapies and techniques.  It was intensive, brutally so.  We’ve been through ABA therapy for the Engineer, and I can tell you that even with a mild schedule (20 hours a week) it was still wearing.  And this mom made a difficult choice: she stopped the therapies.

Her child was fascinated by shadow and light.  He would hyperfocus for hours watching the play of light and water.  And she decided to not only let him do it, but to help him explore his interests.

Now, most parents, when faced with this kind of behavior, would panic.  They would try to get the child to switch to a different activity.  Try to force the child to be “normal.”  After all, isn’t that what ABA therapy is?  Dog training combined with goals of “normal” behavior?

This parent followed her gut.  And in this case – not all cases, mind you – it worked.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to the now-16-year-old’s TED talk for yourself.  He’s articulate.  He’s brilliant.  He’s autistic.  And he says that:


“… he’s capable of advanced physics not in spite of his autism but because of it.”

Paula Spencer Scott, Kinstantly


What struck me was that the child was focusing on details that we adults don’t see – things that are incredibly beautiful, but are often overlooked.  Because he did it so intently it was labeled bad, undesirable, abnormal. I think that’s profoundly sad.

We celebrate adults who can see the beautiful differences and share them with us – they’re called artists.  But a 3-year-old isn’t old enough to share that.  They can barely articulate what they’re seeing, and certainly not what they’re feeling about it.  It’s tough to be aware of so much and not being able to share it.

Reading this article made me realize why I’ve been so reluctant to push the Engineer to restart his ABA therapy.  We had to change providers because of scheduling issues, and haven’t been able to find anyone else who will work with us.  And honestly, I haven’t been trying very hard.  This is why.

Doing that much therapy keeps the Engineer from following his interests.  Since we quit therapy, we’ve seen improvements, we’ve seen a rise in creativity, and we’ve seen a new maturity level in him.  Sure, I can’t conclusively link the results with ending therapy, but I know how important his time is to him.  He’s used to learning, exploring, and creating when he has an inspiration.  Therapy constricted that.  Therapy was limited to the same, boring set of toys, games, and worksheets.

I’ve been so focused on “fixing” the Engineer that I’ve overlooked a simple fact: maybe he doesn’t need to be fixed.  Maybe he just needs support and encouragement.  Maybe he needs to be taught and challenged.  Perhaps limiting his exposure to stressful situations is paying off.

I don’t have all the answers.  As soon as I think I might understand what’s going on inside his brain just a little, something else happens and I’m back to playing catch-up and feeling helpless.

But I do know this:  I will support him.  I will help him learn more about his interests.  And I will love him.

This week, that means staying up until 2 a.m. compiling photographs of carnivorous plants for him.  Setting up a field trip to a carnivorous plant nursery.  Planning a terrarium complete with bugs.  Watching 20 different videos of plants trapping and consuming bugs and the occasional frog.

He doesn’t need to be fixed – he’s just fine the way he is!


  1. I just love this! As a former veteran schoolteacher and then homeschool mom, I say go for it! Isn’t a happy, energized, creative kid worth his weight in gold?


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